<The author, second from the right, poses with newly minted seniors from the Schechter School of Long Island. Courtesy of Rebekah Davis
I often think about what my school life would have been like if I had not attended the Schechter School of Long Island, my little Jewish day school. It was only by sheer coincidence that I ended up here. My very Reform parents lived across the street from an Orthodox yeshiva, and they didn’t want to send me far away from home for preschool. So I went to this tiny religious school where everybody’s parents had names like “Nirrit” and “Orna” and accents thicker than the modest skirts they wore. After a few years of being the Shabbat Ima and bringing home coloring pages about Torah, my destiny was determined: I would become a day school kid. My elementary school gave me an identity and an amazing education, with very personalized instruction because the school was so tiny. After third grade, I could not stay in that school anymore; there were only seven other kids in my class and six of them were related, so I moved to Schechter.
I’ve gained so much from my educational experience. I would not have the confidence I have now if I had been in a class of 400 rather than 40 students. I would not be an outgoing person nor have the guts to run for student government, lose and run again. I would not have received awards such as stage manager, editor of Paw Print Now (our daily news blog) and more. I know about Israeli dance and seem to know more about Judaism than most people. But these are all superficial things. My parents say I’ve learned invaluable lessons about Jewish ethics and about being a good person.
I have a strong passion to do good for this world, and people ask where it all started. The truth is, I don’t know. Even though I’m not religious, my drive for social change probably blossomed somewhere between the Kabbalistic idea of tikkun olam, repairing the world, and being forced to pray every morning and take a close look at all the things in my life I should be grateful for that others may lack. In addition, when you’re in a class with kids you’ve known since forever, you feel secure sharing your thoughts and challenging theirs. My school has allowed me to speak up and not feel ashamed when I may be wrong.
Day school outsiders might call us “brainwashed”, but my classmates and I question ideas more than any other group of kids I have known. My aunts, uncles, family friends and even strangers make assumptions simply because I go to a Jewish school. Many automatically assume I’m devoutly religious, even though I don’t belong to a synagogue. They think that I practice a plethora of Jewish rituals to please the all-powerful God described in the Bible. Someone once asked me if I believed in evolution. In reality, I’ve had many conversations with secular and Judaic studies teachers about religion and God. There have been many lessons that I may not agree with, but over the years I’ve become skilled at selecting meaningful concepts from Biblical and rabbinic classes and learning others just for the sake of the class.
I must admit that I’m glad I went to Schechter, even though the grass always seems greener on the other side. My friends at other schools get an abundance of free periods, know how to play classical music and take a variety of interesting classes. Besides the academic drawbacks, there are many social implications of going to a day school. All my friends live far away and making plans is a hassle. Since there are only 38 other kids in my grade, making new friends is virtually impossible and you need to stay on good terms with the friends you do have since you see them everywhere.
Lately, I’ve realized that I feel like the best version of myself when I am at school. Most people hate going to high school every day and dealing with their peers. However I am energized every morning to receive smiles, hugs and high-fives from almost everyone I see. I have a security network of not only friends but also faculty who I know will stand by me. I cannot identify with the kids I see on TV who are lost in school or feel like they cannot be their true selves, because that has been the opposite of my Schechter experience. It makes me worry that I have gotten too comfortable here and have a false sense of security.
I am excited to think about next year, meeting people outside of my little bubble, breaking the ceiling that is my comfort zone. I love the idea of encountering new people every day with different backgrounds and ideas. Schechter has provided me with a cozy nest, a foundation for the true “Rebekah Davis.” There are so many small variables in life that can have huge impacts, and it’s strange to think that my parents could have maybe lived across the street from some other school.